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Deep and Simple: Mr. Rogers Applied to Marketing

Over the weekend I attended several films at the Heartland Film Festival here in Indianapolis. One of the movies that really struck a chord with me was "Mr. Rogers and Me," a documentary directed by Benjamin Wagner about the famous PBS children's show host and his impact on the filmmaker.

Wagner had vacationed in a beach house next to Fred Rogers years before. In a conversation between the filmmaker and the TV icon, Rogers asked about Wagner's job as a MTV television producer. After hearing Wagner describe his experiences, Rogers said simply, "I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex." This statement inspired the whole movie and got me thinking about how that idea applies to marketing.

To me, much of marketing does seem shallow and complex. Looking across the whole landscape of it, we see a lot of bells and whistles and not much substance. But I don't see why it has to be that way. Why can't marketing be deep and simple like Mr. Rogers says? I'll go one step further. Maybe it should be deep and simple.

Now I'm not saying there's never a place for complexity. I'm a huge fan of motion graphics, which can be very visually complex. And some products lend themselves naturally to skin-deep messages. The problem with shallow isn't that it's bad in itself, it's just easy to dismiss because it doesn't really matter in the long run. Since it doesn't matter, people tend to forget about it. Because of that, I think marketers should be looking for creative opportunities to be deep and simple as much as possible.

When I think about stuff that sticks with me, things that convince me and move me to action, they are often deep and simple. You might be thinking that deep and simple won't sell, but I sincerely think that companies can communicate in deep and simple ways and if they do so, I think they will benefit in the long run.

When I say deep in a marketing sense, I don't mean it has to be some sort of mind-altering existential nugget of truth that will change the world. I think simple honesty about a product or service can run quite deep. Authenticity is deep. I'm reminded of Thom's article about Domino's Pizza admitting that their product was poor and publicly going back to the drawing board to improve their pizza. Messages like this resound with people. Sure, we're just talking pizza, but that sort of old-fashioned honesty is attractive. It builds trust.

When we were kids, Mr. Rogers taught us to have love and respect for ourselves and others. It's so simple that as adults it sounds overly sentimental, even cliché, but it's really not. If we can do this with authenticity in the way we communicate about the brands we build and represent, I think it will pay off in the long run.

You can check out more about "Mr. Rogers and Me" here.

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